Panel surveys: advantages and disadvantages compared with repeated cross-sectional surveys


FORS Guide Nº 14

How to cite

Lipps, O. (2021). Panel surveys: advantages and disadvantages compared with repeated cross-sectional surveys. FORS Guide No. 14, Version 1.0. Lausanne (FORS). doi:10.24449/FG-2021-00014.


In this guide, we describe characteristics of probability-based, scientific social science panel surveys and compare them with cross-sectional surveys in terms of data collection and analysis potential. While panel surveys have analytical advantages for describing individual dynamics and conducting causal analyses, they are also more expensive than repeated cross-sectional surveys and require considerable efforts to keep data quality high.


  • Be aware that the time it takes until data will be usable for your research purpose (e.g., at least three waves) may be much longer than you envisage.
  • Be aware that chasing sample members to participate in panel surveys may be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Also, remember that you always need to stick to the data protection rules in your country.
  • There is an almost infinite number of possible design choices to make – population of interest, sample size, sampling frame, questionnaire content and duration, questionnaire modularization, mode(s), frequency of wave, following rules, etc., all of which have legal, budgetary, and time implications and need to be carefully planned and aligned. Similarly, there are an almost infinite number of possible analysis methods with the right choice of method being largely dependent on the study design, characteristics of the data source and variables at hand.


Copyright: © the authors 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0)

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